Ask A Scientist
What is xylitol?
Asked by: Noor Rehman
School: Vestal Middle School
Teacher: Ms. Jacqui Miller
Hobbies/Interests: Noor enjoys building planes.
Career Interest: Dentist
Answer from Jennifer Wegmann
Lecturer, Binghamton University
Ms. Wegmann's research area is eating disorders and body image. She enjoys exercising, reading, and writing. Ms. Wegmann has a husband named Tom and two sons named Nick who is 13 and TJ who is 9.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in plants but can also be synthetically produced. It is used as a sweetener in foods, gums, and candies. Do not be confused by the name, Xylitol is not alcohol like wine or beer, but is considered an alcohol because of its chemical makeup. Many dietetic foods are sweetened with xylitol because they are absorbed more slowly and metabolized, or broken down differently than other sugars in our body. Therefore individuals who are diabetics can consume foods with xylitol and not worry as much about their blood sugar levels rising too high. Additionally, bacteria in your mouth don’t like to feed off of sugar alcohols, like xylitol, therefore they are associated with less cavities. Some research has actually shown that xylitol may even stop bacteria in your mouth from producing acid that can cause cavities. Based on this research the FDA allows food sweetened with sugar alcohols to make the health claim on their labels; sugar alcohols do not promote tooth decay. Products that contain sugar alcohols may be considered sugar free, but they are not calorie free. Sugar alcohols like xylitiol provide 2 calories for every gram consumed. Although less than the 4 calories per gram provided by sugars, 2 calories per gram can add up and one should be aware of the amount that they are consuming to be sure they stay within their daily caloric requirements. Lastly, one should be careful consuming sugar alcohols as they are not completely absorbed in the digestive tract and may cause diarrhea.